Defense can build on performance against MSU

Most of the credit for the win over Miss. State has gone to the special teams and the offense, and deservedly so. The special teams finally produced the sort of game-changing play Steve Spurrier has been hoping for, and the offense racked up over 400 yards in the best showing of the year. It could not have been the most complete game of the season, however, without strong play from the defense.

At first glance, the defensive statistics may not appear that impressive, but some perspective is needed. The Bulldogs scored three touchdowns, but only one came on a sustained drive. The other two scoring drives, 31 and 48 yards, were set up by a short field. The Gamecocks allowed Mississippi State to rush for 140 yards, but that was 25 yards under the Bulldogs' season average. The Gamecocks also held Mississippi State to just 3.3 yards per attempt, almost a full yard below the season average of 4.1 yards per rush. The 140 yards allowed was also 76 yards below Carolina's season average, giving defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, something to smile about after the game.

"We didn't give up 200 yards rushing, which seems to be our average right now, so that's an improvement," he said. "Of course, I think they ran the football a couple times and knocked us around. We did some positive things. We continued to play better on third down, which is a positive."

Spurrier made the same assessment of the defense, saying that there was a lot to be pleased with.

"They ran for 140 [yards], which isn't that bad," Spurrier said. "I think just that drive at the end of the second quarter and then at the beginning of the third, that was their offense there. Our defense, I thought, played very well. They forced seven punts, we only had four and one turnover. Coach Nix called a super game."

"The first half we didn't play well," agreed safety Darian Stewart, "but the second half we came out and did what we usually do."

Nix made a critical shift in playcalling during the third quarter, a change that coincided with the blocked punt that seemed to spark the Gamecocks. Carolina had been playing with eight men in the box all game, bring up a safety to help stop the run. In the second half, Nix put his faith in cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Carlos Thomas, and moved both safeties into the box. Mississippi State was unable to run against the stacked defense, and Munnerlyn and Thomas clamped down on the receivers. The Bulldogs only passed for 38 yards in the second half, despite the Gamecocks selling out to stop the run.

"We started taking some more chances and putting more guys in the box," Nix explained. "We weren't getting it done with what we were doing, so we started taking some more chances. We're heading in the right direction, we've just got to up our play next week."

Stewart iced the win in the 4th quarter when he grabbed his first career interception on a pass that bounced off the hands of the intended receiver.

"I was beat a little bit on the throw," Stewart admitted, also acknowledging that he will probably never have an easier interception, "but thank God he missed the ball."

The Gamecocks do not have much time to think about the Bulldogs, with a short week to prepare for Kentucky. The Wildcats boast one of the SEC's best offenses, so the defense will have to play even better if they hope to be able to celebrate on Friday morning.

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